Is The Christian Century Christian?

November 23rd, 2015

I am a long-time subscriber to The Christian Century; I even published a couple of pieces in the magazine. For decades, it has been the leading chronicle of liberal Christian opinion. Some of the biggest names in mainline Protestant circles regularly write for the Century.

I won’t deny the possibility of prejudice on my part, but I find the journal increasingly aggravating. Its politics reflect without exception the left-wing of the U.S. Democratic Party. Its theology reflects the most recent victim ideologies of the day.

Even though many writers give nods to tradition, they invariably tend to go beyond what Christians used to believe in order to offer an improved version. The problem is, their version is always blowing in the PC wind, and it is always an attenuated rendition of the ancient Christian faith. The only explanation I can think of would be that the editors and writers are trying to impress their agnostic intellectual friends in secular political circles with their progressive views.

The long time editor (and former Democratic Congressman) John Buchanan is finally retiring. Perhaps his successor will be more independent and imaginative in his opinions. —J. Douglas Ousley

The Church That Gives Blessings

November 13th, 2015

As I was returning a book to the library in a club that I belong to, the librarian saw me and asked me a question. She knew vaguely where my parish was located and she asked, “Is your church the one that gives blessings?”

Apparently, the librarian had been walking by the church one morning and seen our Associate Rector on the steps, offering to pray with passers-by if they desired. Each time Adrian has done this, a dozen or more people have stopped. I urged the librarian to get in line if she needed a prayer sometime.

I can’t imagine any better nickname than “the Church that gives blessings.” —J. Douglas Ousley

Most Reverend

November 4th, 2015

Last Sunday, Bishop Michael Curry was installed as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. In written form he is now addressed as “the Most Reverend Michael Curry.”

Up to recent times, American Presiding Bishops hadn’t used this form of address, which is appropriate for archbishops such as the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby Instead, Americans had gone by the title, “the Right Reverend”–the slightly less pretentious form of addressing a bishop.

But now the office and title have followed the general culture trend of inflating and magnifying social positions. What Jesus would have made of all this is anyone’s guess (and I say this as one whose written title is “the Reverend Canon”!)

In any event, Bishop Curry strikes one in person as a humble man. And his introductory video talks about following Jesus. Fortunately, one can be a disciple with no title at all. —J. Douglas Ousley

An Optimistic View?

October 28th, 2015

In her last days as Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schori has offered a positive view of her tenure. You can read the whole address on this link; here’s a sample of what she said:

“The Episcopal Church has come a long way in the last 10 years. We are no longer consumed by internal conflict over various social issues. We are clearer about who we are – a multinational church, with congregations in 17 nations, worshipping in countless different languages, thriving in international, immigrant, and multicultural contexts everywhere, and discovering the abundant life that comes in turning outward to love the neighbors nearby and far away.”

While no doubt an accurate assessment, Jefferts Schori doesn’t note the great decline in number of parishes, members, weddings, baptisms, etc. in the past ten years. Much of the “internal conflict” has been resolved by people giving up the fight and moving to other denominations or splinter groups.

Most important to me is the apparent dilution of the Episcopal identity into a highly politicized, left-of-center advocacy group. I realize that is a tendentious remark, and I would love to be convinced otherwise. —J. Douglas Ousley

The Homeless We Have With Us

October 23rd, 2015

A recent meeting of local clergy organized by Community Board 6 discussed homelessness in our area. I am sorry to report that there were no new ideas–only a general agreement that the problem is getting worse.

The manager of the community board did  say that Mayor DiBlasio has assembled an task force of officials from different city agencies to try to come up with new solutions to the problem. The issue is complicated on the avenues in Midtown by the presence of young tourist “homeless” with varying degrees of credibility. Many of the saddest cases have mental illness or chemically-addled brains, and they aren’t able to find prime spots to beg or write clever signs.

Meanwhile, the cold weather is coming. —J. Douglas Ousley

Adam Gopnick at Incarnation

October 16th, 2015

Last night, one of New York’s most prominent intellectuals, the New Yorker writer Adam Gopnick spoke at Incarnation.

Mr. Gopnick was addressing the Trollope Society; I am myself a Trollope fan and I occasionally rent the Assembly Hall to the Society for their meetings. The speaker spoke of the value of reading the nineteenth century novelist, who always tells things as they are, and who uses fiction to illuminate–as the title of one of his books says–“the way we live now.” Anthony Trollope’s Palliser series of novels portrays the backstage political world not only of Victorian London but of modern day America.

And his even more famous Barchester novels give great insight into the Church of England. I often advise people who want to know how Anglicanism functions to read these books, especially Barchester Towers. Trollope’s satire can be biting and it is always funny. And it reminds those of us who are churchgoers not to take our institution too seriously! —J. Douglas Ousley

Hands Across the Ocean

October 9th, 2015

I am just back from a week in London. I preached at the farewell service for our Link Parish Rector, Dr. Alan McCormack. His church of St. Vedast-Alias-Fosters was packed; among the civic dignitaries was the newly elected Lord Mayor of the City of London. On the trip, I also met with clergy regarding other links between London and New York. The senior warden at St. Vedast is hoping that Incarnation can have another parishioner group exchange in 2016.

As always, I am encouraged by the natural community we share with members of our Mother Church of England. They are struggling with attendance issues as we are, and they are finding change difficult.

But the clergy and lay leaders remain committed and enthusiastic. We may be thankful for our historic bonds with the C of E and for all the occasions we can find to support each other. —J. Douglas Ousley

Mobile Pope

September 22nd, 2015

Earlier in my career, I spent four years in Rome. As the one of the few non-Catholic clergy on speaking terms with the Catholic Church (most Italian Protestants were either very left-wing Methodists or right-wing Evangelicals), I was invited once or twice a year to ecumenical events with the Pope. My wife and I would sometimes meet John Paul II at a “private” audience for the few visiting clergy.

Pope John Paul ranks for me among the three most charismatic people I have ever met in my life. More than a celebrity, he was truly magnetic–instantly likable.

By all accounts, Pope Francis shares the instant attractiveness of his predecessor-minus-one. While even those of us in the religious field are amazed at all the attention being paid to his U.S. visit, it is perhaps not so surprising. People are fascinated by someone who is not rich or beautiful or probably even extraordinarily bright or talented–but has the charism or gift of helping people to believe. May God bless his visit. —J. Douglas Ousley

Answering the Call

September 11th, 2015

A generally quiet remembrance here of the 9/11 Terror Attacks, two miles from the Twin Towers.

But there were a few more people coming into church and a larger than usual crowd attending the Friday service. A novelty this year, provided by our Associate Rector were little flash tattoos of a feather. These were offered by a group of widows and orphans of NY firefighters and police who died in the disaster or who succumbed to ailments stemming from the attacks.

We put a little sign out front of the church and a basket of the tattoos inside the door and were surprised to find people coming in to snatch them up. It’s touching that folks want visible symbols of their thoughts and feelings. And good news for followers of a sacramental religion. —J. Douglas Ousley

Slaves to Wall Street

September 4th, 2015

Endowments are a mixed blessing.

On the one hand, they provide money that doesn’t have to be raised every year from people who are current attendees of the parish. They often–as in Incarnation’s case–can support buildings that otherwise couldn’t be maintained.

On the other hand, they can lull a congregation into believing they don’t need to give sacrificially to their church. They let the endowment will pick up the tab. That attitude can limit new work in the parish or can lead to cutbacks and deferred maintenance or even to drawing down the endowment. And the idea that we need only give a modest tip to the parish every year isn’t likely to deepen our commitment to the work of Jesus Christ.

So the Wall Street jitters vibrate into our own endowed parish. But, at the least, they may spur our Stewardship 2016 program–and financial downturns usually bring new people to church! —J. Douglas Ousley